NASA And Lockheed Excited At New X-Plane Development For Quiet SSTs

NASA recently awarded Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. a contract to build a quiet supersonic jet. The $247 million contract is an addition to the aerospace company’s preliminary agency contract which was awarded in 2016. The bold idea behind the new jet is to make it a platform for a supersonic airliner which will have a “quiet” sonic boom, unlike the Concorde.

The NASA Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) project will build upon prior developments at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works facility, the project aims to have the first test flight by the end of 2021. The plane’s specifications include travelling at Mach 1.5 (approximately 990 mph) at the cruising height of 55,000 feet. This would allow flights to cross the Atlantic in roughly three hours. Current subsonic airline flights take eight hours from New York to Paris.

Aiming for the Sound of Thunder

A key element of the design for the aircraft is for the sonic boom to be within acceptable limits of only half the sound at that speed. In a written statement from NASA, the resulting sonic boom would be “so quiet it hardly will be noticed by the public, if at all.” It has been likened to the sound of “distant thunder” or “the sound of your neighbor forcefully shutting his door outside while you are inside.”

The loud noise of the sonic boom was the cause for contention regarding the Concorde flying supersonic over the continental United States. The resulting regulation was one of the reasons Boeing was forced to cancel their development of the Boeing 2707. It was supposed to be the first American SST. It had already won a government-funded project to build the SST at its Seattle, Washington facility. The 2707 was designed to have seating for 250 to 300 passengers and cruise at speeds close to Mach 3. This would have been a larger and faster SST compared to the Concorde.

In September, 2017, NASA unveiled the basic design of the QueSST. According to the launch, NASA and Lockheed have already invested £290 million or more than $415 million in research for the plane. They have been testing the mockups in wind tunnels.

Working on the “Boom”

As a plane approaches the speed of sound or Mach 1, the air in front of the plane compresses. The compression stays in front of the plane while it is flying at less than Mach 1. When the plane reaches Mach 1, the compression waves are no longer able to travel faster than the plane, and they accumulate and pile up, producing a booming sound like an explosion. The sonic boom created by supersonic flight is a double boom, with the first explosion occurring as the compression waves pile up on the leading edge of the wing, and the second wave occurs at the tail, when the pressure goes back to normal. The sonic boom is continuous while the plane is in supersonic flight. The sound of the rolling boom across the ground underneath the plane’s path is called the “boom carpet.”

The sonic boom is a result of a plane flying faster than the speed of sound. It can be as loud as 200 decibels, and rattle windows and homes miles away. The sonic boom is within the range of 0.1 to 100 hertz, the lower range of human hearing. The sound is below the range of conventional aircraft and most industrial noise. The duration also characteristically brief, being less than a second. It can be as long as a 100 milliseconds or 0.1 second for fighter planes, and around 500 milliseconds or half a second in length for the Concorde, the space shuttle or any large supersonic vehicle.

The boom is a cone of sound with the aircraft at its leading point. The higher the plane flies, the wider the boom is on the ground. However, with greater altitude, there is less overpressure on the ground. Due to the nature of sound and compression waves, there are various factors which affect how it is heard or the perception of the boom, how loud and where it is heard. The carpet boom follows the flight path of the plane on the ground. This weakens farther away from the flight path. The boom exposure area is estimated to be about 1 mile wide, for each 1,000 feet altitude of flight. Flying supersonic at 30,000 feet, the carpet boom would be 30 miles wide on the ground. The plane’s behavior also affects the boom. Diving and accelerating can focus the boom, whereas deceleration and climbing can reduce the effects of the shockwave. Weather conditions and disturbances can also distort booms.

Supersonic Transports in History

There have only been two supersonic transports. The most successful was the Concorde which was jointly developed by France and the United Kingdom. It had an average cruising speed of Mach 2.02 or about 1,334 mph, with a service ceiling of 60,000 feet. It was first flown in 1969 and entered commercial service in 1976. It had a capacity of 98 to 128 passengers and flew from New York to Paris in less than 3.5 hours. It was in service until 2003. The restrictions on supersonic flight are for commercial SSTs over land, specifically over populated areas. The Concorde was only allowed to fly at supersonic speeds over the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The only other SST to fly commercial routes was the Russian TU-144. It had a shorter commercial life flying passengers. It flew freight and passengers on the Moscow to Alma-Ata and Moscow to Khabarovsk routes. Its first regular passenger service was in November 1977, and the last was in June 1979. The TU-144 development program was cancelled in 1983. Unlike the Concorde, the supersonic overland route was allowed because the Soviet Union did not have any regulations pertaining to the sonic boom.

The QueSST is the latest incarnation in the development of a low noise supersonic transport. There have been various research including DARPA’s Quiet Supersonic Platform. The government agency also funded the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration (SSBD) aircraft. Using a modified F-5 Freedom Fighter aircraft, the SSBD concept was tested in 21 flights over a two-year period. This extensive study of the sonic boom included 1,300 recordings of the shock wave and sonic boom. The SSBD was able to reduce the sonic boom volume by about one-third. If the developments on the SSBD were used on the Concorde, it would have been capable of supersonic flight at acceptable noise levels.

One interesting outcome of the various research into finding a low-noise sonic boom is the development of theoretical designs that seem to have no sonic booms at all. However, even without it, there would still be a shockwave if the aircraft were to generate aerodynamic lift. Earlier studies involving the North American B-70 Valkyrie showed that the sonic boom was still a problem even if it flew at a much higher altitude of 70,000 feet.

The contract between NASA and Lockheed aims to have a working prototype of the QueSST. It would be a single-pilot plane ready for flight by 2021. Testing the aircraft would help determine a design which could be used for commercial aircraft of the future.

While Lockheed is developing supersonic noise abatement designs for aircraft, NASA will also look into the human and legal side of the equation. The noise regulations which limited the overland flight of SST was the result of public clamor during the late 1960s. The regulations were based on the understanding of science at the time. NASA will be conducting tests around urban areas to determine if the stipulated regulations regarding noise levels could be amended.

There is excitement in the development of the plane. According to a Lockheed Martin spokesman, the QueSST is “NASA’s first X-plane in a generation.” Lockheed and NASA are not the only ones developing new generation SSTs. Japan Airlines and Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines are backing Boom Supersonic in the development of SST for transoceanic flights.

In a separate project, Lockheed is working with Aerion Corp. to develop the AS2 business jet class SST with a planned first flight in 2023.

Supersonic flights could very well be in people’s travel options soon.

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Algae-Forestry—Sustainable Energy, Climate Change, World Hunger And More

One might think that reducing carbon emissions, solving world hunger, green-energy, and space travel are all completely separate topics of interest. However, all of these problems may be addressed by a very unassuming organism—algae. Scientists from different universities are currently conducting research regarding an unconventional use of algae combined with other substances.

Combat Climate Change

Scientists from Duke University, Cornell University, and the University of Hawaii have banded together to see whether an unlikely mixture of algae can help create negative emissions in order to stop climate change. The bold idea of using algae to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide started with Ian Archibald of Cinglas Ltd. They called this new system Algae Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (ABECCS). It acts as a huge carbon dioxide sink to reduce the current levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Algae convert the carbon dioxide in the air into carbon-rich lipids, which is not very far from bio-diesel.

“Algae may be the key to unlocking an important negative-emissions technology to combat climate change,” Charles Greene, Cornell professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences said.

The scientist explained that when algae is combined with eucalyptus, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as well as microalgae production could produce a unique scientific synergy that could both reduce greenhouse gases and help solve world hunger.

Absorbing carbon is simply one part of the system. One of the main functions of the ABECCS facility is to generate safe and sustainable energy. Most of the world’s energy comes from the burning of carbon-based fuel sources such as fossil fuel. As the algae in the system are used to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, it can also be used as a fuel replacement for power plants.

In fact, according Greene, when the price of carbon increases in the future, the system can be used as a means to reduce carbon dioxide and use it for an environmentally sustainable energy source.

Food Source

Aside from being used as a potential fuel source, the ABECCS facilities can also be used to generate food as algae are a good source of protein. For a small land foot print, it can generate the same amount of protein as soybeans. However, algae is able to do this while generating energy and reducing tons of carbon dioxide from the air at the same time.

According to Robert Henrikson, CEO of Smart Microfarms, microalgae are 20 times more productive than traditional crops. They don’t require too much water and can be grown nearly anywhere so they won’t compete for agricultural land.

Since algae is a very efficient food source, it is also being tested for space travel. Scientists are trying to see whether algae can be grown on Mars as an alternative food source. German scientists have been trying to prove this since 2014 and have discovered that two types of algae can survive up to16 months in space.

Furthermore, because algae is an efficient energy source, they can also be used as bio-fuel to power space shuttles and space stations in the future. This oft-ignored organism may actually hold the key to improving technology and various life processes in the future.

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Could Alcohol Be The Fountain Of Youth?

If you want to live past 90, you better start drinking two glasses of wine a day.

Researchers at the Clinic for Aging Research and Education in Laguna, Woods, California, recently revealed the secret to longevity of more than 1,600 Americans who are currently over 90 years old.

The 90+ Study, which involved the “oldest of the old” Americans, started in 2003 and was meant to determine the magic formula that leads to longer life. This year, the researchers zoomed in on lifestyles, activities, and food.

Based on the results, people who drank two glasses of beer or wine a day lived longer than those who didn’t drink alcohol.

Neurologist Dr. Claudia Kawas heads the 90+ Study at the University of California. In February, she presented the research findings at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held at Austin, Texas.

US News quoted Kawas who delivered the keynote address: “I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity.”

Drinking Within Limits

There have been countless studies on the positive effects of light to moderate alcohol consumption. This is classified as under 14 drinks a week for women and 7 for women. The protective effects are most significant when it comes to preventing heart disease.

Researchers also revealed that for older people, the benefits of light drinking “clearly outweighed” the possible health risks.

Dr. Bo Xi, is an associate professor at Shandong University School of Public Health in China. Her team analyzed data from over 300,000 participants in the US from 1977 to 2009. The data came from National Health Interview surveys.

“Our research shows that light to moderate drinking might have some protective effects against cardiovascular disease, while heavy drinking can lead to death. A delicate balance exists between the beneficial and detrimental effects of alcohol consumption, which should be stressed to consumers and patients.”

According to the study, moderate drinking reduced risk of mortality from various causes by as much as 25%, while death from cardiovascular disease was reduced by as much as 34% across both genders.

At the same time, two antioxidant compounds found in red wine – resveratrol and quercetin – have been proven effective in preventing inflammation and blood clotting.

What is it About Alcohol?

Florence Bearse from Bangor, Maine, celebrated her 100th birthday and said that the key to long life is a glass of wine. Antonio Docampo, who reached the ripe old age of 107, drank a mix of brandy and red wine every day. And then there’s Eileen Ash, 105, from Norwich, England, who claims that two glasses of red wine daily was her secret to a long and healthy life.

According to scientists, the beneficial component is polyphenols, which is found mostly in red wine – not white. This makes red wine the better and healthier option since the skin of the grapes are removed before the fermentation process. Unfortunately, the phytochemical compounds are found on the skin.

Interestingly, your nightly glass of wine or bottle of beer can also increase creativity. A research published by Dr. Mathias Benedek of Austria revealed that moderate alcohol consumption enhances the brain and boosts creative activities such as writing or painting.

So it turns out parents and grandparents have been on to something all along. Cheers!

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Can Bankruptcy Cause Death? Research Says Yes

A 20-year study of more than 8,000 Americans showed that the sudden loss of wealth can have an adverse effect on a person. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where the impact of “negative wealth shock” may cause a person’s death.

Effects of Wealth Shock

Negative wealth shock is defined as the loss of at least 75% of a person’s assets, including pension fund, business or home over a period of at most two years.

The study was conducted at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, IL and it showed that those affected by the sudden drop in wealth had a significant increase in risks of dying over the following 20 years.

The 8,714 respondents were between the ages of 51 and 61 from various parts of the United States. According to lead researcher Lindsay Pool, “A 50% increased risk of mortality over a 20-year period is a lot.” Pool is a research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, and a part of the research team. She and her colleagues collected data on the respondents every two years between 1994 and 2014.

The researchers were surprised that 2,430 of the subjects had experienced negative wealth shock. These were compared with those who never had much wealth. Both groups had almost the same level of mortality risk. The researchers also tried to rule out the possibility that existing health problems caused people to lose money in the first place, and these problems put them at risk of an early death.

After factoring this into the data, there was still a significant association between negative wealth shock and dying prematurely.

The findings showed that a person who suddenly lost wealth would have increased risk of premature death. The sudden financial loss could cause depression, increased instance of hypertension, and other stress-related conditions. Those who have lost their wealth would most probably also can no longer afford medical care including medications and doctor’s visits.

Effects Across Factors

The effect of negative wealth shock was more pronounced in women, and once this happened, they had the same level of risk of dying as the men. Other adjustments to the data were included to account for any bias due to marital changes, unemployment and health status and the connection between sudden loss of wealth and mortality persisted across the different models.

Related to the findings, the chances of dying were higher if the loss of a house was involved, or if the person had fewer assets.

Harvard University’s Dr. Alan Garber wrote an accompanying editorial and said that wealth shock can be as dangerous as a heart disease diagnosis. He also noted that doctors need to understand that money problems may affect patient’s health. The director of the Virginia Commonwealth Center on Society and Health Dr. Steven Woolf said that it is important to prevent people from experiencing negative wealth shock.

The dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at University of Chicago, Katherine Baicker said that there is need for more research to find out what to do about saving lives from wealth shock. Both Woolf and Baicker were not involved in the study.

This kind of data shows how sudden change or loss affects people negatively. And while further research and additional data are needed, it is a significant piece of information which could be useful in addressing mental health or psychological issues.

The impact of negative wealth shock cannot be undermined because it has no ready remedy, and it is one that heavily requires careful financial decisions.

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Ola Acquires Ticketing App Ridlr For Possible End-To-End Transportation Service

Indian ride-sharing company Ola pushed through with the acquisition of public transport-focused app Ridlr in early April. The acquisition was an all-stock transaction where Ridlr becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANI Technologies, Ola’s parent company.

The transaction will allow Ola to transform into an end-to-end travel app. It already engages in ride-sharing services with several options, including bike-sharing, food delivery services and a mobile wallet. With the Ridlr acquisition, it can provide other services including public transport ticketing. This will allow Ola the flexibility to offer a seamless multi-leg or multi-transport service where a passenger can ride a taxi from his home to the bus station, and from there going to a train station.

Ola is on a Roll

Ridlr as a ticketing service for public transport is not in direct competition with Ola, however, its ticketing services are instrumental for Ola’s possible expansion. Ridlr is also able to track traffic along the route with an estimated travel time. The acquisition was said to be worth $50 million in stock.

The transaction is the seventh acquisition for Ola which had previously bought Foodpanda India. Operating in more than 110 cities, Ola has more than 125 million registered users in India and more than a million driver partners.

With Softbank as one of its major investors, Ola has already set in motion expanding beyond India. It has started operations in two cities in Australia. Meanwhile in India, it is still considered only second to Uber in terms of number of users and revenue.

Uber recently retreated from the Southeast Asian market selling its stake to rival Grab. Uber had also previously pulled out of Denmark due to the local taxi laws.

In the US, the competition is heating up. Lyft has started offering riders more choices besides their Lyft classic service and Lyft Plus. In Atlanta, they have augmented their offerings with Lyft Line car pooling service, as well as the Premier, Lux and Lux SUV for high-end luxury cars rides. In addition, Lyft has begun a subscription based ride-hailing service which could prove more cost-efficient for regular passengers.

Providing a comparison app is Whipster which draws prices from ridesharing utilities as well as taxis and public transport. The user can also use the app to call for the vehicle via their ridesharing app. This provides users the convenience of choosing between different transportation options, with the current price quotes.

On another front, Alphabet’s Waymo has started paid services for its autonomous vehicle ride sharing in Phoenix, Arizona. Waymo has been testing its service for several months and has been given the approval from the Arizona Transportation Department. It is the first driverless ride-hailing company in operation. Compared to Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing apps, Waymo’s vehicles will be able to charge less because it has no drivers.

Uber and Lyft have also been testing their driverless vehicles, but these companies have not given any date as to when they would start offering this option to their passengers. Waymo has 600 Fiat-Chrysler Pacifica minivans and plans to buy more when they fully roll out the service when they expand their service to other cities.

These companies continue to make bold moves which are rapidly disrupting the transportation industry as we know it.

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Scientists Make Advancements In “Mind Reading” Technology

Would you allow a machine to read your mind?

Researchers from the University of California have developed a machine that is said to be capable of reading minds. The device works by interpreting consonants and vowels in the human brain and displaying it as text.

David Moses, who leads the team of researchers, says the machine is 90% accurate. The team hopes that their technology will be able to help paralyzed patients, as well as those who suffered various conditions where they are unable to move or speak.

Artificial Intelligence and Neural Signals

The research was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. The machines works by reading electrodes which have been implanted in the brain. The system is connected to a computer which translates the electrical signals which are later interpreted and appear as words in the computer screen.

Moses was quoted in an interview with the Sun: “The machine registers and analyses the combination of vowels and consonants that we use when constructing a sentence in our brains. It interprets these sentences based on neural signals and can translate them into text in real time.”

Apart from predictive text, the machine also uses highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) allows it to interpret words that are not in its database.

“No published work has demonstrated real-time classification of sentences from neural signals. Given the performance exhibited by [the machine] in this work and its capacity for expansion, we are confident in its ability to serve as a platform for the proposed speech prosthetic device,” Moses said in the same article.

Stephen Hawking’s Awesome Machine

The closest working example to a “mind reading machine” was the system used by the late physicist Stephen Hawking to communicate. Although it did not really read his mind, it relied on predictive text and the slightest cheek movements to come up with a series of words.

Prof. Hawking, considered as one of the most brilliant minds of this century, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more popularly known in the US as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

His speech system was developed by Intel and the company had released it as an open-source code in the hope that it can be modified and expanded to assist patients with other disabilities.

Hawking’s machine is composed of three parts. There’s the input from an infrared sensor or webcam that reads and detects the slightest facial movements. The developers initially tried to use eye movements but it didn’t work since Hawking’s eyes were already droopy. Then there’s the interface that chooses and predicts letters to form words, and finally, the auto-complete software that predicts what he is typing.

The professor then uses a separate synthesizer to lend a voice to his words. This was how he was able to give interviews, lectures, and even talks during conventions and gatherings.

The new machine developed at the University of California appears to be more advanced since it directly taps into brain electrodes. It could also be enhanced further and hooked to a synthesizer to add a voice to the words read from the patient’s brain.

While the bold idea is seen as a breakthrough in the medical field where it could have a myriad of applications, the downside is that the “mind reading” machine could unwittingly give people’s secrets away.

Let’s hope privacy issues don’t get in the way of bold innovations.

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Could This Region Be The Next Silicon Valley?

Over 3,500 participants, 50 speakers, and 257 exhibitors attended the recently concluded Synapse Innovation Summit at the Amalie Arena in Downtown Tampa on March 28 and 29. The event successfully brought together innovators, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and influencers to reinvigorate and connect Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The area is being primed to become a central hub for innovation and technology over the next 20 years. The ultimate goal is to make Tampa Bay America’s new Silicon Valley; a place where startups go because of a well-developed virtual support system for businesses big and small.

The 2018 Summit included 15 hours of programs and 55 breakout sessions where participants eagerly interacted with speakers and industry thought leaders. Attendees also connected with fellow entrepreneurs to share experiences and find out how they can come together to help the cause.

Laying the Groundwork for the City of the Future

Synapse is led by a number of respected entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial service providers, and investors from Tampa Bay. Synapse wants to connect what they refer to as eight personas: investors, entrepreneurs, talents, educational institutions, innovation enablers, entrepreneur support organizations, corporations and the government. Through Synapse’s online platform, these key personas can log in and identify attributes or elements regarding their skills and experiences, as well as what their goals are and how they want to make them a reality.

The bold idea offers startups and entrepreneurs the ability to find the people and companies, mentors and talent, all within one integrated circle.

Tampa Bay is on its way to becoming the city of the future. It is poised for a massive uplift thanks to a $3 billion project spearheaded by Bill Gates and local businessman Jeff Vinik,, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In a recent interview with Bold Business, Vinik stressed that the challenge is to bridge the gap and bring innovation to a higher level.

“The Tampa Bay region is going to be the fastest growing area of the country in the next 20 years,” he said, adding that Tampa can lead Florida’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in five to 10 years.

Arnie Bellini, CEO of Tampa-based Connectwise said Synapse “would become a tipping point for connecting all that needs to be connected here in Tampa Bay and hopefully Florida to create the next Silicon Valley”.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn believes that bringing together all the components will create a magical mix that will drive Tampa’s economy.

“This is our future. Synapse represents for me what Tampa’s next chapter looks like,” Buckhorn said.

Developments and Innovations

Tampa Bay already has plenty of these two ingredients: entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of community. The enthusiasm and eagerness of the business community is matched by the willingness of established businesses to share knowledge and create infrastructure that will help startups grow.

For Tampa, transportation is a key player and companies along with the government are working hard on a solution.

Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Technologies, talked about the promising future of transportation in the area. The multi-million dollar company is turning the idea of traveling in tubes at the speed of sound a reality. The technology is powered by magnets and sunlight, and will radically change how people travel over the next few years.

“We’re in 2018. We have a lot of technology. We are innovating daily. I feel that entrepreneurship can bring a lot of these solutions,” Ahlborn said.

Synapse spokesman Cesar Hernandez added that there have been exploratory talks on having a Hyperloop system built in Tampa, but they would need to look at the feasibility of such a massive project.

Stronger Networks, Closer Ties

Having concluded its second year, Synapse is drumming even more support from the business community.

Sara Margulis, CEO and Co-Founder of Honeyfund said the event was “an amazing opportunity to network and hear about all of the efforts and all of the different organizations and groups that are contributing to a really burgeoning technology scene here”.

The event brought together people from various backgrounds to create a living, breathing ecosystem for business in Tampa and ultimately all of Florida.

“I’m really excited to see this much effort and this many people in one place all focused on entrepreneurship and technology,” said Kasra Moshkani, General Manager Southeast US for Uber Technologies.

The annual Synapse Innovation Summit is kicking off its bold advocacy of empowering Tampa’s innovation ecosystem and ensuring the future of its business community, that will continue on a daily basis going forward.

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